In the U. S., the obesity epidemic accounts for more than $170 Billion in surplus medical costs per year. However, ordinary citizens have discovered an unexpected solution to this national problem: walkable neighborhoods.
By forming walking clubs, Americans are not only losing weight, but they are also fighting crime and creating safer communities.
In Bakersfield, California, two mothers started a walking group, initially to improve their health – and they ended up building a better neighborhood for everyone. When they first started, the group ran into roadblocks: aggressive dogs, broken bottles, and broken lights, as well as drug and gang activity. So the mothers, Gena Perez and Leticia Encima, stepped out of their comfort zones and contacted the police, parks, and animal control departments to start tackling those problems, according to a report on the group published in Children’s Advocate (March-April 2008).
While they had to be persistent, the group kept working together until the broken lights got fixed, dogs were restricted, police patrols increased, and park maintenance improved. Now, more than 60 members participate in the Greenfield Walking Group, which started from the efforts of two determined mothers. Besides learning better nutrition and exercise habits, group members also got to know their neighbors and developed a support network.
Those moms demonstrated how important it is for parents to become actively involved in their communities – and their children’s lives. Children need to be involved with adults to role model a healthy lifestyle to help them make healthy choices. The path to healthier lives starts at home with supportive neighbors.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Some children lack self-confidence and use food to feel better. Overeating and avoiding exercise can become self-destructive habits. Obesity can lead to Type 2 diabetes and an increase in asthma and heart problems. Education can help, but it will not solve the problem entirely. It is up to parents to get active with their children – and to build a circle of support around them.
When we start walking together, we encourage each other. We begin to feel better and sleep better. Life becomes more enjoyable as we develop healthy relationships.
Walking is a fun way to learn about your neighborhood. So…
- Invite one or two of your friends to join you
2. Ask more neighbors to take part and form a regular walking group
3. Plan your schedule and walk together several times a week
4. Map your neighborhood – Check out safe destinations, crosswalks, and traffic; and avoid hot spots
5. Evaluate neighborhood safety, stay alert and stay together
6. Compare notes on nutrition and share healthy recipes
7. Include children after school and on weekends
Start today. Be the example you want to see in your child’s life. Progress happens when we take one step at a time.
If you think good nutrition and exercise are essential, so will your children. They will learn that exercise can be fun as they connect with other adults. You and your neighbors will become a visible presence, which will help deter crime while also assisting the neighborhood network of support for families, which will help everyone to grow stronger and healthier.
Stephanie L. Mann, Founder, Safe Kids Now
Crime and Violence Prevention Consultant
Author, “Empowerment Parenting: How to raise resilient children who become happy, self-reliant adults.”